Joel Kotkin

America's uber-geographer speaks in Boise.

Nicola McIntosh Jan 1, 2017

In Joel Kotkin’s vision of the future America, people will migrate from the coasts to the interior and seek out communities where they can make a difference. “If we want to be optimists about America, we cannot as a country maintain a middle class and stay competitive if we decide that everybody’s got to live on the coast at very high prices,” Kotkin told 180 Zions Bank clients, elected officials, and community and business leaders at a luncheon in October 2016.

Kotkin, author of “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us,” and dubbed “America’s uber-geographer” by David Books of The New York Times, shared his research on the country’s changing landscape and how Idaho and Boise, in particular, could benefit.

Choosing Migration vs. Telecommuting

Kotkin quoted Aristotle to describe what makes a city: “A city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well.”

He said most people want to live in communities where they feel like they can make a difference. However, housing costs are a major determining factor for people. “There’s been a big reduction in migration to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles since prices went up,” Kotkin said. “Even young people are moving elsewhere.” But even in Boise, where housing is affordable, Kotkin sounded a note of caution: “I would be concerned if you start to have strict regulatory policies that may cause your housing prices to go up considerably.”

Kotkin noted that people nationwide are heading to smaller towns and cities in search of affordability — a phenomenon he calls “declustering.” They have the freedom to do this because technology allows them to work remotely. “Technology is the great equalizer,” he said. “With technology, you can be part of the global economy and the national economy in a way that you couldn’t be before.”

He noted that Americans telecommuting two days per week saves 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline and 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year. “My happiest day is when I don’t get into the car once,” Kotkin said.

Immigration Drives Economic Growth

New Americans are another economic driver. “Long term, if your economy is going to grow, you’re going to have to appeal to immigrants,” he said.

“Many of the jobs we’re creating are not increasing productivity. One of my favorite targets is social media,” he said. However, he cited energy and agriculture as industries where strong growth will occur and said growing global demand will fuel the ag sector. “These countries are going to be huge markets for ag products from the U.S.,” he said. “Understand what the base of your economy is and the role that it plays.”

California residents aged 35 to 44 are one of the largest groups migrating out of the state, according to Kotkin. They are seeking affordable housing in a market where they can apply their job skills, “and Boise is perfectly suited for that,” Kotkin said. “You’ll attract some millennials, but I think they are going to have a stronger pull to Dallas and Nashville and Houston.”

He noted that residents of big cities like Dallas think it is too big and congested and are moving to rural areas of the state. As cities like Boise grow, he said, “You’ve got to be able to preserve the quality of life.”

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